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While many colleges and universities offer degree programs in agriculture, environmental science, and agricultural economics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in most cases, a high school diploma is sufficient to work in the profession. Contemporary farm owners, however, are more than farm laborers. They are entrepreneurs and can therefore benefit from formal education, which provides training in basic business operations, marketing, government regulations, labor practices, livestock management, and other pertinent subject matter.
Perhaps the best way to investigate the possibility of becoming a farmer is, quite simply, to talk to famers about their lives and experiences. Ask them what they love about their work and what they find most challenging about it. Farmers are usually very busy, but they are also usually very passionate about their work and happy to talk about it. Volunteer on a farm or pursue a farming apprenticeship, to learn under the guidance of an experienced farmer and determine if the lifestyle is desirable. For a nominal fee, organizations such as World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoofinternational.org) link organic farms with potential volunteers. Similar programs offer room and board as well as a small stipend in exchange for labor.
How long does it take to become a Farmer?
Aspiring farmers who choose to supplement their hands-on experience with formal training or education will commonly add one or more of the following timelines to their learning track:
Certificate – The length of certificate programs varies greatly, depending on the type and amount of content.
Online Degree – one year to eighteen months
Associate’s Degree – one to two years
Bachelor’s Degree – four years
Steps to becoming a Farmer
Many farmers are born into a family farming business. From the time they are children they gain their knowledge through observation and hands-on experience. The modernization and new complexities of the farming industry, however, have increased the need for farmers and ranchers to also receive formal training. This is especially true for those who are responsible for making financial and operational decisions.
1 Training and Education
A high school diploma – ideally, with a concentration in laboratory sciences or advanced mathematics – is required to apply to an agriculture degree program.
The specific degree earned is determined by the kind of farming the student wishes to pursue. Many Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree programs offer several different majors, including the following:
Bachelor’s Degree programs
Bachelor’s Degree agriculture majors are typically divided between programs that focus on managing an agribusiness and those that emphasize soil, plant, or animal management. Among the degree specialization options are plants and soil technology, livestock management, animal husbandry, agribusiness, and agricultural engineering.
Associate’s Degree programs
Most agriculture majors at the Associate’s level provide some instruction in agriculture theory and business, but focus on practical soil, crops, and livestock management and the operation of farming machinery and equipment.
Graduates at this level commonly enter the workforce as greenhouse technicians, farm managers, or field workers. They may also opt to complete a Bachelor’s in Agriculture.
Online Degree programs
Online programs are usually very flexible. They generally require students to log in to a course management system to access class materials and submit assignments at their own pace and on their own schedule. Live and interactive components, however, require that students connect to the class at specific times. Some lessons, hands-on learning modules, and tests and exams may take place at local schools or campuses.
Certificate programs in agriculture may be ideal for individuals already working in the field and wishing to expand their knowledge in specific areas. Available courses of study generally include plant diseases, organic farming, nutritional science, food quality and safety, crop development, and soil fertility.
2 Work Experience
Students may seek assistance from school advisors or faculty in locating work experience or internship opportunities. For individuals without formal education, some farms offer apprenticeships. To work as an intern or apprentice and investigate government assistance options, contact The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
3 Certification (optional)
Farmers or farm managers can seek the Accredited Farm Manager certification through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Applicants must successfully complete a four-part certification examination as well as a code of ethics test. A minimum of a Bachelor's Degree in the agricultural field and four years of farming experience are also required to obtain this credential.
4 Continuing Education
Flexible continuing education programs and courses, comprised of both technical classroom and laboratory instruction, are designed for busy farmers and agricultural professionals.
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (www.usfarmersandranchers.org) offers workshops, seminars, and other training opportunities.
Should I become a Farmer?
Farming offers a life of independence and connection to the land, but it also involves huge responsibility. To get a sense of how you are likely to respond to the demands of farming, consider your answers to the following set of questions:
Are you comfortable being solely responsible for an entire operation?
The success of most small farms rests entirely with their owner(s), who are typically responsible for both day-to-day operations and long-term planning.
Are you able to accept uncertainty and variability in your life?
Uncertainty, even insecurity, are not uncommon in the farming industry. Among the factors that can affect a farmer’s livelihood are climate change, government mandates and regulations, and global trade policies.
Are you a fast learner?
The farming industry has become rather complicated. It has a very steep learning curve. Farmers must constantly watch the markets to try to get the best price for their products and find the lowest prices for seed, fertilizer, and equipment. They must operate complex high-tech machinery, such as tractors with GPS-guided driving systems. They need to understand multiple varieties of bio-engineered seeds and the chemical make-up of fertilizers, soil types, and weed killers. Simply stated, becoming a farmer means you will need to absorb a lot of information and keep up to date with changing systems and techniques.
Are you a resourceful problem-solver?
Farming is as much a mentality or lifestyle as it is a profession. The challenges and setbacks presented by the occupation require that you possess imagination and creativity to find solutions and survive.
Are you a patient person?
When you start out, you will make mistakes and encounter stumbling blocks. You will be well served by taking the long-term view because success typically takes a long time.
Do you possess basic business management skills?
To keep a farm operating, farmers must be able to manage cash flow, budgets, and equipment depreciation schedules; calculate risk margins; track profits; and create marketing plans. They must understand economic trends and remain aware of government legislation relevant to their enterprise.
Are you prepared for the working conditions on a farm?
Hours of work and time demands: Unless they hire an assistant, it is not uncommon for fulltime, independent farmers to have no time off during the planting, growing, and harvesting seasons. Duties during these periods can often take from early morning to late evening. During the rest of the year, preparations for the upcoming season must be made; these may include maintenance and repairs, accounting, and marketing.
Manual labor: Even with modern equipment, farming remains a manual labor enterprise. A reasonable level of physical fitness is crucial.
Hazards: Handling livestock, using various chemicals, and operating and repairing farming machinery and equipment can be hazardous.
Do you have enough money to invest in farming?
Starting even a small farm requires considerable initial capital. You have to buy materials and equipment. You either have to buy land or deal with land lease relationships.
Are you prepared for the potential economic hardships of farming?
It has been estimated that to stay afloat, approximately 91% of all small farms require outside income, either from a second job or from government and foundations grants.
If you feel comfortable with the demands raised by the above questions, you may be further motivated to become a farmer by these simple, but attractive benefits of the occupation:
Escape the office
No dress code
Bring your pet to work
Spend your days outside
Join a close knit community
Feed the planet
What are Farmers like?
Based on our pool of users, farmers tend to be predominately investigative people. This prevailing characteristic is reflective of much of the work that farmers are called upon to do: investigate suitable land, examine crops, inspect livestock, analyze budgets, and explore marketing options. Clearly, ‘investigative’ perfectly describes the quintessential farmer.
Farmers by Strongest Interest Archetype
Based on sample of 1165 Sokanu users
Are Farmers happy?
Farmers rank highly among careers. Overall they rank in the 73rd percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
The life of farmer may encompass operational, financial, and regulatory challenges, but the time-honored tradition of farming and the connection to the land that it offers may very well explain its high level of occupational happiness. While farming is not without its trials and tribulations, there appears to be something very fulfilling and profound about it.
Farmer Career Satisfaction by Dimension
Percentile among all careers
Education History of Farmers
The most common degree held by farmers is English Literature. 1% of farmers had a degree in english literature before becoming farmers. That is over 0 times the average across all careers. Biology graduates are the second most common among farmers, representing 1% of farmers in the Sokanu user base, which is 0.4 times the average.
Farmer Education History
This table shows which degrees people earn before becoming a Farmer, compared to how often those degrees are obtained by people who earn at least one post secondary degree.
|Degree||% of farmers||% of population||Multiple|
|Business Management And Administration||1.0%||6.4%||0.2×|